Obama Campaign Draws Fire for Tapping Former Lobbyist for Senior Adviser Post

Oct 24, 2011 4:16pm
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Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

President Obama’s re-election team today appointed former corporate lobbyist and veteran Democratic attorney Broderick Johnson as a senior adviser for the 2012 campaign.

Johnson, who volunteered for Obama in 2008, has spent the past three years lobbying federal lawmakers on behalf of Microsoft, Comcast Corp., FedEx, Ford and TransCanada, among other corporate clients, according to public records.

His “revolving door profile” with the Center for Responsive Politics shows that before he worked as a lobbyist Johnson spent several years as counsel on congressional committees, and later as congressional liaison to the House during the last two years of the Clinton administration.

He joined the private sector in 2000 as an in-house lobbyist for AT&T and BellSouth before joining the law firm Bryan Cave in 2007.

Johnson’s appointment, in spite of Obama’s effort to cast himself as an enemy of corporate lobbyists and moneyed interests, immediately drew fire from environmental groups, which said Johnson’s ties to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline violated the president’s pledge to remain free from lobbyists’ influence while in office.

The Obama administration is weighing approval of the deal, which is sought by TransCanada, a former Johnson client.

“President Obama ran for office in 2008 promising that the days of lobbyists setting the agenda in Washington were over, yet now he’s hired a top oil pipeline lobbyist into his campaign,” said Kim Huynh of Friends of the Earth, in a statement. “This is a deeply troubling development.”

Johnson formally deregistered as a lobbyist in April, records show, and no longer represents TransCanada or his other clients.  The Obama campaign also said it does not accept contributions from registered lobbyists or political action committees, unlike their Republican counterparts.

Obama’s campaign team said Johnson would serve “as a national surrogate for the campaign and our representative in meetings with key leaders, communities and organizations.”

“Broderick will be an ear to the ground for the campaign’s political and constituency operations, helping to ensure that there is constant, open communication between the campaign and our supporters around the country,” the campaign said in a statement announcing the hire.

Johnson, whom campaign manager Jim Messina called an “invaluable adviser,” is believed to be the highest-ranking African-American on the Obama campaign team.

Johnson said in a statement he accepted the post “with great pride and a strong sense of duty.”

Johnson’s wife, Michele Norris, co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” said in a statement on the company website that she would step down from her post through the campaign to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

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